Where do you get your ideas?

No one’s ever asked me how I come up with these stories, but in case anyone is genuinely curious…

 

Months ago, while listening to my standard writing playlist (and working on something else), this song came on. And I was struck.

“Your t-shirt’s lost its smell of you.”

And a scene was born. And then a book (slowly). It’s a sad book, and it’s hard already, but it’s happening, and that’s what’s important.

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NaNoWriMo 2018

Hooray, it’s November! I’ve been noodling this book around for months, and I’m excited to finally put fingers to keyboard! Below is a rough first chapter.

Chapter One

 My phone buzzed in my pocket for the fourth time in five minutes. I’d assumed spam call the first time, because who uses phones for phone calls. Four calls in a row wasn’t a telemarketer.

I set the bag of groceries on the counter and pulled out my phone. And now I was more confused.

“Girl, just text me,” I said to my best friend.

“Come to the school.”

Ice filled my veins.

“What’s up?”

“Come to the school,” Amanda repeated. “Something happened with the bus. We don’t know what yet. All we’ve got is rumors.”

I glanced toward the living room, where my daughters were arguing over the TV. The bus was carrying the Haven High School boys basketball team across town for a game. My husband and fifteen-year-old son were on that bus. What did she mean something was wrong with it?

“What kind of rumors?”

“That people are hurt. That they’re dead. We’re getting everyone together.”

She said people as if we weren’t talking about our sons, my husband, the boys’ teammates. As if instead of being people we’d known their entire lives, it was faceless names read off on a news broadcast.

“I’m on my way.”

Again, I looked toward my daughters. If I left them here, they might hear that their father and brother were, oh, God, please don’t let them be, dead from a Facebook post, and I couldn’t imagine that. I’d have to take them with me. If Amanda was at the school, then Preston would be too, and the girls would have the distraction of a friend. Yes. Perfect.

“Coats, girls,” I called as I strode toward the door.

“But we just got home,” Addy complained, her hand on her hip. Always the petulant middle child.

“Please, girls.”

“What’s wrong?” Olivia asked, already shrugging on her coat.

“I don’t know,” I replied, wishing I had something reassuring to say. I couldn’t very well say that everything was okay, because it clearly wasn’t. But “Dad and Matt might be dead” wasn’t right either, and oh, God, please let them be okay.

The school gymnasium was crowded and noisy, far more than simply the families of the players. The girls had indeed immediately gravitated toward their friends among the sibling group, and I scanned the room for mine.

I felt a hand on my arm, and was enveloped by my best friend as soon as I turned. Amanda and I clung to each other for a moment, before I stepped back, taking hold of her arms, hoping she had some semblance of an answer.

“What do we know?”

She shook her head. “Someone heard a call on a police radio about a bus crash. I tried calling the hospital, but they wouldn’t tell me anything.”

There shouldn’t be any other buses out. School was out for the winter holidays. The boys had this last away game before they’d be home too.

“Should I try calling Steve? Has anyone tried calling the boys?”

“I tried Landon’s phone. It went straight to voicemail.”

“Are the police around?”

“No one’s seen them.”

“The boys have to be okay,” I said, a prayer, a hope, a reassurance.

That morning I’d sent Steve and Matt off on the bus like I had dozens of times before. Matt was a twenty-five years younger carbon copy of his dad, both of them sandy-haired and freckled and taller than everyone around them, even when they were with the team. Basketball season meant putting my boys on buses, or sitting in stands watching my husband direct the action, watching my son flit around the court. How could a day like so many others have taken this turn?

I fixed my eyes on my daughters, playing a haphazard game of tag. Addy nearly ran into the mayor, and I wondered for a moment if Jim was here too as a parent. But no, Jimmy graduated in the spring. He must be here in his professional capacity.

Oh, God, what did it mean if the mayor was here with us?

“I need to be doing something,” I said.

But there was nothing to do. I chatted with the other parents, comparing notes, pouring over Google search results, obsessively looking for news, as if CNN might know before us that something had happened to our sons. The fact that none of us had managed to reach the boys, or Steve, or Reston increased all of our anxiety. They weren’t supposed to be at the host school yet. They should still have been on the bus, and teenagers stuck on a bus answer their phones.

Other students began to show up at the gym too, and I could no longer pretend things were fine. The boys had all been silent, no texts, no phone calls, not a single social media post in the time since the first rumors had begun. Even the children had realized that things were serious now. No one ran around anymore. Olivia clung to me, her arm around my waist. Addy stood nearby with her best friend, the girls holding hands. I wanted to comfort my daughters, but I didn’t know how.

A wail cut through the hush, the image we’d all been searching for finally found. A small school bus in a ditch, the name of our school district written on the side. The bus was surrounded by emergency vehicles, police, firetrucks, ambulances, unmistakable now that something had happened, even if we still didn’t know what.

The gym echoed with noise again, the hush replaced by children crying, frantic parents trying again to reach their sons, phones chirping with notifications as people who somehow weren’t in the gym heard began to hear the news.

But what news? Even with the picture out there, we had no information. They could all be fine, I told myself, needing it to be true, because the opposite was unimaginable.

Just when I thought that the entire population of Haven, North Carolina, had assembled, more arrived. Police officers, not all of them locals. Amanda’s husband pulled her away from me, both of them being escorted to a corner by an officer I recognized, Lainey Collins, who had been a high school classmate of mine and Amanda’s.

The officer who came to me was unfamiliar.

“Josephine Grant?”

He had to be a state trooper. I would have recognized a local. A local would have called me Jo.

He repeated my name.

“Yes,” I said finally. “That’s me.”

“Mrs. Grant, I’m so sorry.”